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P o s i t i o n

Keeping the Hotline Warm

September 11th and EU-Russia Relations

Iris Kempe - March 2002

Six months ago, Russia's President Putin was the first foreign leader to express sympathy and solidarity with the United States following the attacks on New York and Washington. Using the hotline established between the two superpowers during the Cold War, Putin said Russia is with America and against the terrorists. Based on this position, Russia contributed several kinds of support for the Western military action in Afghanistan, and an air corridor for the flights of American aircraft was provided. Furthermore, Russia stands in for American interests in its Central Asian Alliances and supports the West with intelligence information. In addition to supporting the US, Russia also acts in its own direct interests, particularly in Central Asia and the Caucasus where it has to prevent potential terrorist threats.

Apart from military and strategic action, Putin has been opening new windows of opportunity for relations between Russia and the West. Russia's short-term signals surprised the international community, but in the half year that has followed, the long-term tasks have come increasingly into focus. Putin's most significant foreign address on both short and long-term developments was his speech given in the German Bundestag at September 25th in Berlin. He started by highlighting the worldwide background to the tragedy of September 11th and continued with the need to build a new security architecture. In doing this, he suggested strengthening European integration but also thinking in a wider, i.e. pan-European security context.
Russia's clear support for the US and Putin's declaration of the end of the Cold War surprised the Western world. At the same time most of the Russian political elite is critically astonished about Putin's current position. One has to ask how far and by whom the President is supported, whether he is expressing his own power over other actors and influence groups, or whether he is under serious pressure from his opponents. Furthermore, the immediate co-operation on strategic aspects, like providing the air corridor, is no guarantee of a strategic and sustainable partnership. Some doubts should be considered about the support for Putin among the Russian elite and public opinion.

Russia's new strategic approaches

Taking lessons from history seriously, one has to consider that East and West have collaborated before under the pressure of common enemies and threats, but, for instance, after the end of World War II co-operation turned very quickly into the new confrontation of the Cold War. Furthermore, at least some doubts should be considered about the support for Putin among the Russian elite. The strongest criticism is formulated by Communist and/or Nationalist representatives, who are comparing Putin with Yeltsin or Gorbachev. Beyond radical positions, even analysts and politicians who usually support Putin are much more sceptical now. Even if they do not criticise, they have started to brick up the new windows of opportunity with wish lists for compensation. The list starts with understanding Russia's military action in Chechnya. The bombing of apartment buldings in Moscow and other Russian cities in summer 2000 is once more propagated as a terrorist attack from the Caucasus, even if any kind of official proof is still missing. The intervention in Chechnya is portrayed as fighting against terrorism, and the West should support it instead of constantly criticising Moscow.
Other analysts assess the close co-operation between Russia and the West as a tactical policy which will not lead to any new medium-term strategic alliances. For instance, the journalist Alexeij Pushkov argues that the window of opportunity for new co-operation is already closed, since the US pulled out of the ABM treaty and Tony Blair's proposal to install a new NATO Russia institution was blocked.

Even if Putin's position is not shared by all members of the Russian elite, he is supported by reform oriented representatives, such as the member of the Russian state Duma Vladimir Ryshkov, or Dmitri Trenin, deputy director of Carnegie Moscow. They mostly share the position of a new window of opportunity of Russia's external relations and internal development. Under this assumption, the EU is of growing importance for Russia and the events of September 11th have an impact on almost all areas of co-operation between Russia and the European Union.

Challenges for Partnership

Security Partnership

Since Russia started to widen its perception of the EU from a purely economic player to a political actor, Russia has been interested in security co-operation with the European Union. The intention is connected with Russia's concept of a multilateral world order. In this concept, the EU is seen as an alternative to a US-dominated world. Therefore, the Russian government has been welcoming the strengthening of the EU's Common Security and Defence Policy, but did not agree with the western security concept that strengthening European security and defence co-operation is part of transatlantic co-operation.
Even before September 11th the US refused to participate directly in the NATO operations in Macedonia. As an indirect consequence of September 11th, one should assume decreasing American involvement in European conflicts. Therefore Western Europe has a need to establish a new security partnership with Russia to cooperate in preventing and fighting regional conflicts in the Balkans, the Caucasus and the western part of the CIS.
Following from Putin-oriented statements and official action after September 11th, Russia is no longer interested in a multilateral world order, but is part of the international anti-terrorist operation. Once more Putin's speech in the German Bundestag can be mentioned as a signal for overcoming the legacies of the Cold War and proclaiming Russia an ally of the West. This also includes close co-operation or even membership in western organizations, not excluding NATO. In addition to NATO issues, Russian positions are also focusing on strengthening the European Security and Defence Policy, as well as increasing security co-operation between Russia and the EU. The new goals of security co-operation were part of the EU-Russia summit in Brussels in October 2001. The output fixed in a "Joint declaration on stepping up dialogue and co-operation on political and security matters" opens opportunities for Russian participation in civilian and military crisis management operations of the European Union Defence and Security Policy. Furthermore a statement on mutual co-operation to combat international terrorism in compliance with the international law and the UN Charter was signed. Russia's requirement to strengthen the ESDP should be considered as an opportunity for deepening EU integration.

Partnership of modernization

If Russia keeps the door open to being a western country, it has the opportunity to transform itself from a historically great power to a prosperous European nation. This transformation would decide a fundamental Russian debate about self-definition between being a superpower on the one hand or being a successful modern state on the other. If the reaction to September 11th leads to the latter approach, Russia's future development will further co-operation with Europe.

The European Union and its member states fulfil several conditions for a modernisation partnership. The EU is costumer number one for Russian exports, and with about 40 percent amount of foreign direct investment, the EU member states are the biggest direct investors in Russia. The Union is also the largest provider of technical assistance to Russia. Furthermore, supporting the Central and East European candidates states through the combination of becoming members and rule-setting for internal development from the outside is a unique success story for stabilising transition processes. If Russia is setting new goals for its transition, the Union should use these experiences to stabilise internal Russian developments. Potentially, the EU policies of the technical assistance program TACIS and the humanitarian aid office ECHO can
be adopted to the additional requirements. The recently adopted EU Country Strategy Paper 2000-2006 and National Indicative Programme 2002-2003 for the Russian Federation include some important areas of further technical assistance for Russia. By identifying areas of co-operation such as administrative reform, civil society development, deregulation, corporate governance and social reform, the approach goes far beyond the Washington Consensus based on supporting liberalisation and privatisation at the beginning of the 90s. In evaluating the capacity of the EU's technical assistance to Russia, one should also take into consideration the comparatively low amount of resources budgeted. Since 1991, when the EU set priorities in its external relations and its function as a soft security provider, the Union has provided € 6.2 billion in technical assistance to the Balkans and only € 1.5 billion to Russia.

Economic partnership

The events of September 11th are also a new impulse for economic co-operation between Russia and the EU. This very area was the beginning of Russia's co-operation with the EU. The Union is the most important trade partner for Russia, and the Partnership and Co-operation Agreement signed in July 1994 already contained the option of a European free trade area. The trade relations between Russia and the European Union are dominated by Russian energy exports. On the one hand this trade structure is of mutual interest, but on the other hand strengthening the energy-based economy allows Russia to postpone further modernisation.

September 11th has an additional impact on Russian-European economic relations. At the Brussels summit in October 2001 Russia and the European Union declared the creation of a Common European Economic area. The guidelines are restricted to the idea of bringing EU and Russia closer together, to removing obstacles to trade, investment and transit and to paving the way for negotiations on Russian WTO accession. A clear concept of designing a common European economic area is still missing, but nevertheless it might be a fresh impulse to extend security related co-operation towards a widespread partnership. Taking into consideration requirements of Russian modernisation the economic relationship should go beyond energy exports from Russia to Europe.

Further conclusions

In order to define the impact of September 11th on EU-Russian relations one should consider three aspects. First of all, the internal Russian discussion has been dominated by US and NATO related issues; second the discussion is not finished; and finally, Putin in his clearly post-Cold War styled policy is not being supported by all Russian decision makers and analysts.

The crucial question remains to what extent the consequences of September 11th will go further than single-issue short-term action toward impulses to strengthen integration and co-operation between East and West. Taking into account all the threats and challenges to Russia's current position, the most important task is to transform tactical co-operation in sustainable partnerships between Russia, Europe and the United States. These partnerships have to be based on widespread numbers of actors and can not be limited to security-related issues. At this very point the problem of belonging to different kinds of societies plays a significant factor, and the alliance can by no means limited to common security interests. While Western societies are consolidated democracies, market economies and pluralistic civil societies, Russia is still under transition from authoritarian rule toward Western modernisation and pluralism.

The current situation can be best described as a window of opportunity. If Russia continues its policy of becoming a modern European country, the EU is challenged to have a growing function. In the fields of modernisation and economic co-operation, the EU is already a strong actor - its role as a security and defence provider still has to be improved. While September 11th has already had some considerable consequences for relations between Russia and the West, even after six months it is still too early to asses the sustainable impact on EU-Russia relations. Future developments depend on Russia's strategic choice for further modernisation and the EU's capacity and capability to be a security and defence actor in the international arena.

Positionen >>

  D o s s i e r

Sechs Monate nach dem Terror
Die Europäische Sicherheits- und Verteidigungspolitik nach dem 11. September

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